Song To Song

Two youthful couples face the positives and negatives of romance on the road, in Terrence Malick’s newest visual entrancement, ‘Song to Song’. In this modern love story set against the backdrop of the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples; struggling songwriters Faye (Rooney Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling), and music mogul producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) and the waitress whom he ensnares (Natalie Portman), chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal that will rock the foundations of each relationship and business bond. ‘Song to Song’ is written and directed by Terrence Malick, and is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, drug use and adult language.

FILM FREAK JOKE: How does Terrence Malick know when to end a movie? When he runs out of film.

‘Song to Song’, the latest from critically acclaimed and panned director Terrence Malick showcases everything that both crowds have come to love and hate, and will certainly offer nothing of groundbreaking alteration for each respective opinion. It’s a look at the music scene of Austin, Texas, with the same splashes of pretentious filmmaking that Malick has perfected into crafting one of the most unorthodox methods of camera work currently going. For me, Song to Song was a two hour endurance test that felt like I was climbing the steepest mountain, when others who joined me on the journey were falling along the way. At any given time, people will walk out of a movie. But when over half of the audience of eleven people get fed up with the lack of direction or narrative from where the story is heading, there’s a great problem on your hands. Add to the fact that I saw this movie at an art house theater and it only adds insult to injury when you consider the kinds of things that these particular audiences are used to sitting through. I myself came so close to making this only the second film that I have ever walked out of, not because it is the worst thing that I have ever seen, but because it often feels like you are watching a high-school kid aiming and shooting at the most random of occasions. It lacks any kind of structure for conceptual storytelling, and I don’t mean that as a rare breed kind of compliment. Song to Song is the worst film that I have seen in a three month old 2017 that has set the bar low so early on in the year. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

First of all is the story itself and lack of narration on-screen that stunted any kind of momentum or interest for the audience to engage in. As a storyteller, Malick would rather abide by the law of ‘tell but don’t show’, so a lot of the film’s sequences feel like jumbled pieces that don’t fit well together, signaling a trimming from a possibly much larger director’s cut that fills in the blanks from scenes that quickly become incoherent. The film’s four main cast members serve as narrators throughout the movie, but their lack of delivery with emphasis in the important subplots often feels like a blink and you will miss it kind of deal, as there were many points in this film where things switched up between romantic partners without very little warning or building. On top of this, Malick lacks any kind of dual or long-distance storytelling to pace out these four characters better. There are noticeable chunks in this movie where Gosling and Mara will disappear for twenty-five minutes, or Fassbender and Portman will vanish for thirty minutes. It hinders the boundaries of entertainment when we could use this period of breath between two protagonists to see what is going on with the other two, but this film is incapable of clicking and comparing the trials and tribulations of two couples equally to ever contrast the differences and similarities. As for long term, there is so much back-and-forth in this movie from where our characters begin and end. Everything feels like short instances instead of long breaths in the creative, so most of the material is throwaway for the plot that is such a small part of what this movie really centers on.

The visual presentation for the movie featured positives and negatives that both serve as glaring examples for their dependency on Malick’s signature style. The backdrops of Austin are gorgeous. This movie could’ve passed as being a video for A-list celebrities on vacation, but unfortunately that is one of the many missed opportunities. Malick certainly has a love and passion for this geography. There’s music, luxurious real estate, and sex….lots of sex for Terrence to oogle at. I’ve always been a way at how this director can frame a shot, opting to invade the space of his central characters to put us in the thick of their engagements. That never fades even in this movie. Terrence can point and shoot as well as anyone, but where there’s style, there better certainly be substance, and as I mentioned before, this film deprived me immensely of such a concept. Where the visuals negate to a fault is in the picture editing, which is among the most jarringly disastrous since Suicide Squad, and that’s saying a lot. Malick cuts far too often for even the most simple of exchanges, instead choosing to convolute something that is completely unnecessary for. There are many times in this film where questions will be asked by the current narrator of the scene, only to move on without any answer or reminder ever again. Imagine if someone told you a story like this; Mary is ten years old. Mary’s favorite food is……her favorite movie is……. One of the biggest problems that I think my audience had with this film was how jumpy everything felt. It keeps it from ever building any scene-to-scene momentum, and feels D.O.A early on in the picture.

Kudos to the trailer editor for this movie for somehow managing to take two hours of this dreary, dreadful film and crafting it into a story that anyone would be a sucker for. I certainly fell hook, line, and sinker for a trailer to a movie that I never got. I mean, the love story and the music is there, but this film’s visual style is constantly moving in slow motion, lacking any real energy to relate it to what feels so special about these people or this town. Lines of dialogue continuously take the long route each and every time to get to their destinations, most notably in Mara’s character, who is constantly brooding like she is in a Calvin Klein perfume commercial. After a while, the act gets stale, and the story could use any kind of stimulation to remind us of the importance of losing real, honest love. The screenplay continues to stomp over every detail that could’ve used appropriate time to soak up each detail, but instead slugs its way through pacing that practically doesn’t exist at all. The film feels like it lacks the three act structure from that of a typical screenplay, and instead exerts one continuous two hour act that drowns on like a funeral proceeding. The irony of which could be the foot in the grave that this director now has for the audience through this.

There’s not much to the performances, mostly because this well-stacked A-list cast is given so little to work with. It feels like Malick just turned the camera on for the four of them to say and do anything that they please, further adding to the celebrity vacation idea that I firmly planted in the previous paragraphs. The movie was shot over a five year period, so it’s funny to see hairstyles and even personal appearances vary as the movie goes on. It works well for the weathering of time, but does very little for visual continuity. Natalie Portman’s character is really the only character with any kind of gripping exposition, but she’s never given any kind of value in screen time to act her way through it. Fassbender is wasted. One of the very best actors in the world, and his character slouches in a dense fog of sexual addiction and alcohol that sideline him for a majority of the film. He’s nowhere near the important aspect that the trailer made him out to be. As for the two main characters, Gosling and Mara rarely insight a sense of magic that makes their union believable. There is certainly chemistry, but more believable as friends and not lovers, with the way they charmingly play around with each other. One cool aspect that the sound department does to relay the importance of the movie’s title, is that there is constantly some form of music playing around them when they are together. The idea of falling in love with someone and music always playing definitely came to mind here, and even if Malick can’t direct performances out of them, he at least sets the stage for a poetically beautiful confrontation that always kept my toes tapping where my heart wasn’t.

Whether hype or heart, Malick continues to polarize his reputation, conjuring up the very worst film to date that the once prosperous director has attached his name to. Song to Song is a disjointed, disheartening, and often times incoherent rambling of the director’s personal take on modern love. With some of the worst editing sequencing to hit the silver-screen, as well as hollow pacing that served as a dull exercise in patience, Terrence’s newest flub can’t find a screenplay to equally match its gorgeous cinematography. It’s a movie that feels like more of the same for a writer who has written himself into a corner of bland pretentiousness, hitting all of the wrong notes with musical monotony.

2/10

CHIPS

‘CHIPS’ is the latest 70’s television show to get the big screen treatment, in this remake starring Dax Shepard and Michael Pena. Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) have just joined the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in Los Angeles but for very different reasons. Baker is a beaten up pro motor-biker trying to put his life and marriage back together. Poncherello is a cocky undercover Federal agent investigating a multi-million dollar heist that may be an inside job—inside the CHP. The inexperienced rookie and hardened pro are teamed together, but clash more than click, so kick-starting a partnership is easier said than done. But with Baker’s bike skills combined with Ponch’s street savvy it might just work…if they don’t drive each other crazy along the way. ‘CHIPS’ is written and directed by Dax Shepard himself, and is rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.

‘CHIPS’ is an interesting concept in script and tone because I’m not quite so sure about who it is marketed towards. Fans of the 70’s television show won’t like it because it abandons the working formula that made the series a success for five years. Youthful fans who have never seen the show and just want to watch a good movie won’t like it because there’s nothing funny or entertaining about this juvenile film that can barely be called a remake. Over the last fifteen years, remakes of 70’s and 80’s TV shows have been hit or miss for their finished products. Most notably, films like ’21 Jump Street’ or ‘The Man From UNCLE’ have attained that rare stamp of approval from TV enthusiasts of the original, while films like ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘Dark Shadows’ have done lasting damage. Unfortunately, ‘CHIPS’ will fall with the latter because this often distracted bro-comedy offers very little homage or memorable material to justify its presence among the remake ranks. This is Shepard’s second time behind the camera, and its clear that his admirable ambitions overshoots the actuality of his grip on the pulse of this particular franchise.

At 96 minutes, there’s very little in positive returns for that of a script that takes every ten minutes to halt what little momentum these characters or subplots build on. One example of such is the noticeable stance on homophobia, which holds no bearing or place in this particular story. Because of this, ‘CHIPS’ often feels like it was made ten years too late, when the poking fun of cultural explorers because eye-rolling. Often times, this movie feels like it was written by a minor who just peeped his first nudity magazine. The R-rating is used to show female breasts, or to let the cast drop the occasional F bomb, which has zero impact on their overall comedic timing or flawed delivery. Even more so, this movie has some of the most obvious foreshadowing in storytelling that I have seen most recently. It’s easy to spot these lines from the second they are presented because often it holds no meaning or accordance to the material being shuffled in dialogue. Some of these examples were Shepard’s character having bionic limbs from bike accidents, so he tells his captain on the first interview that rain is bad for him. So of course there will be a scene where rain prominently pops up. Another one involves Shepard saying he hates blending house smells because they make him vomit, so of course we are going to have a scene where this gets to him. Pena and Shepard have a conversation early on about girls who marry their fathers, then sure enough there’s a line of dialogue by the end of a movie where a female cop explains that she likes Shepard because he reminds her of her father. This isn’t even half of what I found, and it makes the material more than slightly telegraphed as I waited for the ending.

Then there’s the dialogue, a literal hodge-podge of awful line reading. At first I wondered if this was intentional to play up to the laughably bad forced readings of 70’s nostalgia, but then I realized what little in storyline progression that this movie actually had. This film has this vast offering of multiple scenes that will halt in order for Pena and Shepard to discuss their latest sexual conquests. Most of the time it’s things that the typical grown up would learn in high school, and it hangs what is going on around them in mid-air waiting patiently for when they finish up. I will get more to the characters later on, but Pena’s character in particular crippled me, as every other line of dialogue concluded with a “bro”. On top of that, most of these reads feel like they never should’ve made the finished product, as they rarely ever feel believable through the dense fog of ludicrous developments. Now I’m not foolish enough to expect great dialogue from the CHIPS remake, but it does help the entertainment value if I can immerse myself and believe that these two idiots are officers of the law to benefit the story.

As for the performances, there was nothing of any charismatic charm or finesse to justify the casting of Pena and Shepard beyond the latter’s triple layer mold of power on the project. What passes for character exposition in this movie is the most brief of offerings for us to indulge in. Pena’s character is a sex addict, that’s it. That is all that we have to hang our investment of this character on. Shepard’s is at least slightly more in-depth; he’s an ex-motocross performer whose wife is cheating on him. How could you not want to spend over an hour-and-a-half with these guys? Beyond this, the two have virtually no on-screen chemistry between them, often times feeling like two actors who just met and were asked outside to come in and put on a show on-stage for twenty people. Vincent D’Onofrio is decent, but the biggest aspect to his character is that we learn something about his moral stigma early on that the movie doesn’t catch up to for another eighty minutes, taking us through the most obvious of movie mysteries.

I do have one positive to this movie however, and it’s that Shepard at least has a distinct view for bike chase sequences that serve as the single lone aspect that outdoes the original. These scenes don’t come nearly enough in the overall finished product, but there are some exceptionally well depicted tracking shots that take us through the ritzy areas of Beverly Hills. These luxurious landscapes breeze by through each swerve and turn that our protagonists take us on, and it overall makes for a fast-paced action thrill ride that serves as the brief moment that this film takes our breath away. I also greatly enjoyed the POV style that put us face-to-face with our riders as they embrace the fast-and-dangerous lifestyle. Most of the time, POV won’t work because you miss what is most important that is going on around the actors and action, but the rendering here is justifiable because these officers are constantly imbedded in the chaos that surrounds them.

Whatever CHIPS intends to be, one thing is certain; this film lacks the energy and chemistry of a 70’s TV show by comparison (Laugh intended). A staggerly unfunny comedy that puppeteers the sensitivity of homophobia and important female leads. Something that would make sense in the 70’s, but not in a politically correct 2017 that has grown above that. Shepard has an artistic eye for motocross sequences and little else. Perhaps a future in the X-Games, instead of feature length films is just up his alley. Either way, CHIPS is coming to a yard sale near you.

3/10

The Last Word

Shirley MacLaine gets ‘The Last Word’ in Mark Pellington’s newest dramedy, also starring Amanda Seyfried and Anne Heche. MacLaine is Harriet Lauler, a once successful businesswoman in tight control of every aspect of her life. As she reflects upon her accomplishments, she’s suddenly inspired to engage a young local writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), to pen her life’s story. When the initial result doesn’t meet Harriet’s high expectations, Anne sets out to reshape the way she is remembered, with Anne dragged along as an unwilling and unflattering accomplice. As the journey unfolds, the two women develop a unique bond which alters not only Harriet’s legacy, but also Anne’s future. ‘The Last Word’ is rated R for adult language.

‘The Last Word’ is a decent enough plot to entice its audience into checking it out. There has always been a certain curiosity to the kind of legacies that we as humans with our time on this world will leave behind, and what kind of words and sentences will be used to trigger our memories. This, in addition to the film’s hearty message of living for today and not being afraid to fail, is one that I take with great meaning and intention. Unfortunately, it had to come at the hands of a movie that is the exact counter opposite of such a quota. Saying that this is one of the most artificially emotional films that comes to mind simply doesn’t do enough. This is one that should be avoided at all costs because it doesn’t take the time or the transformation in its central character to merit the kind of somber finale that this film intended. On top of that, it’s trying to channel one too many emotional responses. It wants to be awkwardly funny with characters you despise, yet it also wants you to take pity upon said character when the inevitable rears its ugly head. One of these directions is fine, but to take both contradicts the other and leads us down a path of dishonorable proportions.

The story of this narrative revolves around Harriet’s redemption, especially when she finds out that many people were either afraid or terribly disgusted with a lot of her actions in her early life. These people range from her co-workers at a prestigious law firm, to her daughter who has wanted nothing to do with her for the better part of her existence. Over the course of the next 103 minutes, the story of Harriet trying to right her wrongs is interrupted and cast aside for Anne’s disappointing life. Contrived when it is trying to attain profound, and it never materializes to anything for the character it should be. Because this movie takes so much time in establishing and solving Anne’s own personal flaws, there’s very little time left for Harriet to become this person that makes us bask in her triumph by the end of the film. Sure, Harriet is helping Anne along the way to achieving the kind of dreams that she wants as a writer, but she does it at such a disrespectful cost along the way, often pausing the progress to critique or humiliate her in front of total strangers. There is simply no transformation to Harriet by film’s end, so we are kind of left with the same shadow of a human being living up to every nasty and honest thing being spread about her. A winding journey that essentially has no conclusion, but here’s the movie that tells us how important she was in the eyes of someone who knew her for two weeks. Bravo.

The performances aren’t half bad, even if their intended directions tiptoe the grounds of conventional storytelling. Shirley Maclaine still has the firepower of a scene-stealer, and commands that presence through many hearty laughs throughout the movie. Even if her character is moral garbage, Harriet is definitely someone who doesn’t balk at having a good time, and a lot of that resonates because of Maclaine’s own timely humor that rarely ever misses its mark. Amanda Seyfried is decent, even if she is playing her usual stick here. Surprisingly, the two actresses from respectably vast age groups share the kind of depth in chemistry that would normally take a couple of films to channel. There are very few scenes when their characters aren’t together, and those make for the roughest in terms of transitional arcs from one subplot to the next. I also greatly enjoyed the work of AnnJewel Lee Dixon as the troubled youth that Harriet and Anne take in to better the former’s caring stature. Even if this insensitive subplot is honorable, Dixon is a delight to watch as a child with a few choice words to describe the awkwardness of those around her. I’m a sucker for kids cursing aloud, so AnnJewel won my heart and stole many of scenes even when her character felt flimsy to the importance of the movie.

The only other thing of notoriety was that of the pacing, which feels smooth in transition during the opening half hour or so, but then insufferably slow during the last act of the movie that tacks on far too much. It’s odd that the film can feel two different kinds of sequence storytelling speeds, but ‘The Last Words’ accomplishes this rare feat by elevating its story as it goes to contrived levels. I would’ve preferred that the film stick with that first act more, as much of its script focused more on the issue at hand of the people that Harriet has wronged over her life. Anne’s story is OK, but it isn’t one that feels necessarily important to the urgency of Harriet’s disposition, and so much of this tier of the story should’ve been left on the cutting room floor in favor for Harriet receiving tough love in consequences for the things that she has done. A direction that goes virtually unexplored and feels miles away the deeper that we immerse ourselves in this emotionally unstable script.

The Last Words of this particular film don’t generate the kind of somber or important message that the film had intended. Maclaine still slices with sharp precision in three-dimensional characteristics, but unfortunately for her the movie that accompanies is an uneven emotional mess that never hinders its potential behind a road of clarity for its morally blind protagonist. Even more so, there’s nothing of memorable merit to the bland dealings of this script, leaving Pellington’s latest dead on arrival before it finds the proper footing in collective tone. The lack of credibility in emotional truth undermines its own success.

4/10

Life

A crew of six highly intelligent scientists seek the answer to the question of the existence of another lifeform. In ‘Life’, we get the story of the six-member crew of the International Space Station that is on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As the crew begins to conduct research, their methods end up having unintended consequences for them and the citizens of Earth, and the life form proves more intelligent than anyone ever expected. ‘Life’ stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds, it is directed by Daniel Espinosa, and is rated R for adult language throughout, some sci-fi violence and sequences of terror.

If you’ve seen one isolation in space horror movie, you’ve seen them all. Thankfully, ‘Life’ pushes past a conventional script by offering us artistic merit in the form of gorgeous cinematography, as well as a sound scheme that can at least present some peaking merits in an otherwise typical screenplay. This is a film that was originally slated to debut in May of this year, but got moved up two months to play against a March backdrop that is slightly less intimidating than that of the Summer blockbusters that invade around Memorial Day. It turns out that it pays off brilliantly, as Espinosa’s science fiction space shriek does more than enough to hold its own against previous similar offerings like ‘Alien’, ‘Event Horizon’, and leagues above the mindless ‘Apollo 14’. It’s solid proof that if you cast the big name actors, people will most definitely come, and this is a movie that is every bit as terrifying as it is cerebral. An ambitious float through the terrors of uncertainty that does more than enough to top Espinosa’s previous effort, 2014’s ‘Safe House’, also starring Ryan Reynolds.

What I love about the storytelling of this film is that it puts the characters first, and allows the story itself to follow those characters, meriting more positive returns when you care about their ordeals with this mysterious organism. Solid exposition time is depicted for all of them, and it’s in those introductions when the tragedy of this story and these people really sink into you. Space itself is an immense and unpredictable atmosphere to make a living in, and that lack of knowledge plays hand-in-hand to the kind of misfires that we make in decision making. It’s clear that this screenplay pays homage to those kind of films that adhere to the idea that man will be our society’s greatest downfall, and how sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. I mentioned earlier that the film does play to conventionalism despite a first act death that was a little surprising for the name value expensed. Nothing in this film ever really surprised me, and that could be at the fault of seeing and experiencing all of these films, with all of their similar structures and conclusions. The film keeps its characters at the intellectual mercy of this creature, so the convenience of butterfly effects that render them helpless is a brief suspension of disbelief for minds supposedly as gifted as this crew. Even the conclusion is something that I accurately called once the setup become obvious. Even still, I can never say that the movie bored me. Perhaps a compliment to the performances of a charismatic cast that bring their A-game when acting against a CGI antagonist.

The design and computer generation of this property felt very in-sync with that of multi-cell organisms, and that attention to detail rarely makes this alien anything super extraordinary or cartoonish in terms of its capabilities. One thing is certain, this thing is very intelligent, mimicking and authenticating the responses and actions of the living properties around it. Perhaps my favorite aspect to its design is the growing of its physical stature. I love how this creature will often appear and disappear before our very eyes, and that shock and awe when it returns twice the size of when it left, made for an emphasis on urgency that never stops pumping. If I had one negative for it, I would say it was in the developing face of this thing in the third act, which reverted it to campy alien designs in other big budget space operas. Keeping this thing faceless and non-registering is what made its unpredictable movements so vicious and conniving in plodding, so the additions do occasionally render that originality uninspiring.

The visual backdrops of Earth and the surrounding nebulas captured the immensity in isolation with these characters forced to make their own under-prepared decisions for the fate of what hangs in the balance. With the camera styles in particular, I loved the revolving camera angles that followed our cast through the very tribulations of gravity. It’s no secret that I am not often a fan of flipping the camera upside down, but here it makes sense to put us in the middle of the chase. The tracking shots through many numerous tunnels were outstanding, playing to that vintage trick of associating the camera with that of the antagonist that is chasing the crew. Espinosa plays to the hand of claustrophobia so effortlessly, but then takes it one step further when it feels like such intimate surroundings continue on-and-on with a ship this intimidating.

The musical score by Jon Ekstrand also is weighed on heavily in capturing the very dread and doom that covers each scene like dense fog. So much of what Ekstrand does is dabbling in ear-piercing notes to capture the vulnerability of these characters navigating through a ship, where this creature can pop up at any time. This composition took me back to the days of 80’s horror scores, when music played a pivotal point in teaming with that of the monster that lurks behind every corner. An addition that can take any average or predictable sequence and make it that much more captivating by orchestrating terror in its most audible of forms.

Finally, there’s the cast that brings a collaboration of A-list performers to the overlooked stage of horror for an exceptional union. Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada. A cast this well known for big budget blockbusters was a thrill to watch to see them juggle the very tones of horror, and there are simply no complaints from any of them. Gyllenhaal’s character in particular is probably my favorite because there’s a lot about him that embraces the secluded environments of space and what benefit that holds for him. This is rare for a character to feel this way in movies, but it’s depiction offers a fresh and untold angle to this particular perspective. Sanada also commands vast intelligence and humanity in his grip, juggling the complexities of a newborn baby with that of the frightening discoveries that are constantly changing with him being galaxies away. Sanada’s character feels like the one with the most to lose, so our embrace of his well-being is one that never fades over the course of several different shifts in leverage.

At 95 minutes long, ‘Life’ doesn’t necessarily need to take its time getting to the thrills and chills of a story that exercises the themes of seclusion and claustrophobic tension. With an exceptionally likeable cast, as well as sound achievements in the filming and music departments, Espinosa’s space serial is a tantalizing thriller that orbits through a galaxy of conventionalism trying its best to weigh this story down. Fortunately, the unnerving social commentary on the mission at hand offers a self-reflective view on the kinds of missions that we deem as important.

7/10

Wilson

A troubled, older man named ‘Wilson’ stands at the metaphorical fork in the road, when his life changes for the better. Woody Harrelson stars as Wilson, a lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged misanthrope who reunites with his estranged wife (Laura Dern) and gets a shot at happiness when he learns he has a teenage daughter (Isabella Amara) he has never met. In his uniquely outrageous and slightly twisted way, he sets out to connect with her and make things right with the way certain disappointments happened in his life. All the while, settling down and garnering the kind of lifestyle that everyone should feel entitled to. ‘Wilson’ is directed by Craig Johnson, and is rated R for adult language throughout and some sexuality.

This movie deceives its audience with one of the most exaggerated trailers that I have seen in quite some time. ‘Wilson’ is a comedy that wants to badly to be a message-baring dramatic piece, alienating its former in a way that was not only damaging to the film, but also to audiences that will deal with 90 minutes of bland personalities and narration that will exert more pity out of you than feel good humor. I am not embellishing even in the slightest when I say that this movie made me so depressed that I now feel immense uncertainty with the next series of comedy offerings that I will take in. In metaphoric terms, ‘Wilson’ is a one legged dog that loses a fight to a pack of angrier, hungrier dogs, then gets run over, then limps its way to the sidewalk, where it gets chewed up by a lawn mower. Vicious example I know, but this movie fails over and over with offering the sweeter side to Daniel Clowes character, when he created and penned this story decades ago. It’s a set-up that dooms itself in repetition, as well as an incoherent screenplay that feels far too often that it is throwing any idea at a wall to see what sticks.

It’s certainly easy to see the overdone pitch here, over-and-over again. Each scene starts off with a fresh landscape different from the scene before it. Wilson comes along to interact with someone embracing their privacy, gets involved in a long-winded conversation with said person, and then says something outrageous to offend or alienate that person. That’s it. Clowes ‘Wilson’ novel is a series of one page animations that feel like your typical Sunday morning cartoon strip in the local paper. The problem is how does this equate to a three act structure that is rarely ever given time to breathe between extremities, as well as time to soak in the reactions before jarringly bad editing comes in to break up what little reactions it garners from its audience. Honestly, I did laugh a few times during ‘Wilson’, most of which were the quick-digs that were prominently featured in the trailer. What did pleasantly surprise me was to find out that this movie is rated R, so that juvenile humor can blossom to the fullest potential. Unfortunately, this film is a comedy for all of the first act, after which it dips into one of the truly most pathetic protagonist stories that can not improve its credibility when one thing after the other diminishes this character and his hopes with each passing second.

Wilson himself is the kind of guy to let life walk all over him without feeling the kind of fire or charisma to fight back. He’s utterly pathetic, rude to everyone he comes across, and selfishly puts his own wants and needs above everybody else no matter what toll it will take on them. Harrelson himself plays the character fine, emoting the most in this fragile character that deserved to be studied instead of poked at with a stick, but he just isn’t presented in the brightest of lights. That rendering smile and wink that Woody has perfectly crafted over a respectable career is there enough to think that something more memorable is behind every turn, but unfortunately it is a pipe dream that never materializes. In addition to him, the supporting characters in this film by actors like Laura Dern, Cheryl Hines, and especially Isabella Amara as Wilson’s depressed daughter Claire, are equally as unrelatable and benign as the title character. After each interaction with these characters, the film slips further and further into a reclusive state, offering the occasional shock-and-awe dialogue just to see if the audience is still awake. Thankfully, Judy Greer does turn in a brief shining light that impacts Wilson the most, despite a brief lasting power. She’s the kind of positive influence that makes me want to grab Wilson and tell him to pay attention to what’s good about his life, and forget about the past that is better left exactly there.

At a flimsy hour-and-a-half, you would think that pacing shouldn’t be a problem at all, but this movie drags its feet like an infant throwing a fit at the beach. Pacing in comedies certainly aren’t a problem if the comedic effect is in full swing, but considering I only laughed at maybe 10% of the jokes in ‘Wilson’, it’s safe to say that I checked my watch on more than one occasion. It feels like forever mostly because of choppy editing that builds addition to these sixty second scenes that never amount to anything other than throwaway. It’s a certainty that this screenplay is either written poorly, or was at the very least harshly editing to leave out some important aspects. One such scene is a courtroom deposition that we as an audience never see, but hear plenty about from three different scenes that mention the importance of it. This plays into the shock I discovered when I checked my clock late in the movie. When I realized that there was still a half hour left in this movie, I wondered how that could be. This character and tracking story respectively, had been through so much within the first two acts of this movie. Even more so when you consider that where this movie should’ve ended, it doesn’t. It drags on further for fifteen more minutes of cringe-worthy, dumbed-down choices that rip away that chance of a happy ending for this fragile presence. The movie’s ending is fine enough, but I feel like it would’ve been better if past dealings were left in the shadows of this maturing man who is moving forward.

‘Wilson’ better serves as a two minute trailer that tightly boxes in the best laughs of the movie, and teaches everything that you need to know about this particular character. Harrelson’s charm is seeking air from the suffocating cloth of material that is being forced against his nose, but occasionally breaks free to remind us that one of the most enjoyable personalities is still under the glasses and thinning hair line. I only wish I could’ve said the same for the bleak, moronic character written for him. Daniel Clowes best work would be better left alone as a book, rather than to turn it into a movie that feels choppy and lacks most of the storytelling dynamics of its material.

3/10

Power Rangers

Five teenagers turned heroes learn of the impending doom upon their town of Angel Grove, forcing the group to become the ‘Power Rangers’. Five teens with attitude are inexplicably brought together by coincidence or destiny to become the newest generation in a line of warriors known as the Power Rangers. The world rests in their hands as Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a powerful witch and former Green Power Ranger, launches an assault seeking the Zeo Crystal with an army of stone golems called Putty Patrollers and a giant golden monster called Goldar. Based upon the popular American television series, ‘Power Rangers’ is directed by Dean Israelite, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, minor adult language, and for some crude humor.

There are times in my writing career when I take honor for being correct in my assumptions. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for all of my doubters, ‘Power Rangers’ will not go down in history as being one of these times. When I first heard that they were producing a big budget silver-screen version of the popular 90’s kids show, I thought about how negatively some of these properties like ‘Jem and the Holograms’ or ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ have been treated along the way. Thankfully, Saban Productions knows the kind of property that they have on their hands, one that speaks to generations younger and older who adore this folklore. For my own personal grade, I view two important aspects to this movie; does it do damage to the original offerings? and does the film present enough of a fresh perspective to justify its re-imagining? Both of these answers play hand-in-hand with one another, but I can gladly say that this 2017 version should pleasantly please audiences of every timeline. Whether you were a 3-season fan like me, or you followed this evolving group of kids through every manifestation, there will be plenty of positives to instill that fun in you that you felt as a child, as well as have you anxiously awaiting the inevitable sequel that is hinted at in a mid-credits scene that is carefully orchestrated.

First of all is this fresh cast that a lot of this film rides on. The movie immediately introduces us to three valuable characters who are equally built among their respective angles and storylines. These are Jason, Kimberly, and Billy. Oddly enough, Billy was my least favorite character in the original ‘Power Rangers’, but here R.J Cyler combines nerdy intelligence with teenage awkwardness that places him in the spotlight of this adolescent who I just couldn’t get enough of. Likewise, Naomi Scott and Dacre Montgomery (Winner of the Zac Efron look-alike contest) too live up to their important characters as Kimberly and Jason respectively, and what I dig about both of them is that they feel like they come from two different worlds, and would otherwise never frequent one another, but this adventurous secret between them and everyone else, crafts a ‘Breakfast Club’ kind of arrangement that hits on that classic 80’s film setup on more than one coincidence. There are two other Power Rangers played by Becki G and Ludi Lin, as Trini and Zack, but sadly neither are given the valuable screen time or smooth transitions to their story that would otherwise build them equally with their other three protagonists. In fact, the film kind of forgets about the two of them until about midway through, when we are told vital information about one character’s sexual orientation, as well as the other one fearful to go home for their own personal dealings. These could’ve used more emphasis in a two hour run time, and regretfully character building is something that this film does feel jarring with all of its picking and choosing. Even still, I thought it was cool how they kept the names the same from all of the original rangers, and yet switching their heritage around with the color of their uniforms.

If there is one MAJOR flaw to the casting, it’s in Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. I definitely admit that I got my prediction for the finished product of this movie wrong, but I was absolutely correct about this being an immense miscasting for the rangers biggest villain. Not that it’s completely Banks fault. She is given a very miniscule amount of on-screen time not only to build the backstory of her character, but also put her in any scene that doesn’t jumble the teenage drama kind of tone that the film surprisingly hit on wonderfully. Any time that Repulsa is on-screen, we return to the hokey kind of atmosphere that the original series dabbed in, and while this may satisfy some, I can humbly tell you that I never once believed that Banks fully immersed herself in this character. For the most part, it feels like she is playing dress-up and spouting off some cheesy lines that make it difficult to ever take serious. Banks is a decent actress, but this kind of action movie is anything but her forte, and the absence of a strong antagonist keeps this film as consistently predictable.

I mentioned the tone, and what works in its dramatic regards is that a lot of these teenagers in the movie are dealing with issues that mirror that of what our current youth entail. Sexual orientation, high school identity, and loneliness are just a few of the depictions that ‘Power Rangers’ hits on, and the portrayals consistently feel honest and not at all like a gimmick used for plot convenience. To watch this group of kids merge into a family is one that does a lot for the moral integrity of the film, and adds a dramatic layer of depth to your investment in those characters and their well-being. What’s smart about this is that this is an origin story, so the film feels it vitally important to build the men and women inside of the suit before it shows us the goods, a point that pays off soundly. At the end of the day, this is still a group of teenage superheroes who form a gigantic dinosaur, so there is some humor to boot, but the sprouts of it inserted throughout are used wisely and accordingly so as not to jumble the increasing tension within these inexperienced rangers and the impending doom that awaits them.

The action is given a nice big budget presentation in CGI destruction value. It’s kind of funny to watch this once little engine that could be transformed (Poor choice of words?) into a Michael Bay kind of depiction in crumbling buildings practically falling from the sky. The fight choreography pays homage faithfully to the kung-fu kind of brawling that engaged in the original series, even so much as turning the amps to eleven, with fast-paced movements that always feel tightly in-sync with one another. The camera work could definitely be stronger however, as there’s either often too much going on within each frame, or the direction of each shot is negatively compromised because of experimental camera work that reaches a little too much in aspirational pull. Some of what I mean for instance is when a character or machine will get knocked upside down, and the camera has to follow the flip all the way in the same vain that said object does. I certainly do not need this kind of accuracy to understand the pain associated with being knocked on your head, but if feeling the brutality was the intended purpose, then I most certainly did with some of the most visually sickening camera work of 2017.

The only other two things that bothered me was that of some viciously disgusting product placement, as well as an ending that could’ve lasted slightly longer in resolving Repulsa’s immense army. On the latter, this movie does touch on the familiar cliche that if you defeat the biggest one, the rest will fall. If you’ve seen ‘The Avengers’ you know what I’m talking about. On the former, there is a local donut business that gets the most repetitive two hour commercial that money could’ve bought them. Once or twice is OK, but to keep showing, and even having a character feast on a donut during the big climax, angered me to the days of Adam Sandler and all of his cheap usage to put some more change into his pocket. It feels as desperate here as ever before, and the intended purpose for this building could’ve been any other abandoned building or otherwise to get its point across.

‘Power Rangers’ was a brace for the worst kind of modern-day adaptation, but the marriage between 90’s cheesy kids shows and big budget productions is a gift-wrapped delight to fans who have been waiting for this kind of rangers movie for over two decades. With a better casting for the antagonist, as well as some modest step-taking when it comes to shooting action sequences, and Israelite could etch his name as a premiere filmmaker. Even still, the pacing never slows down for two solid hours of nostalgic insanity that will remind you of a simpler place and time.

6/10

Beauty and the Beast

One of Disney’s most infamously cherished classics gets the live action adaptation treatment, in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Twenty-six years after Belle and Beast warmed our hearts with a romantic tale of song and dance, this re-imagining introduces us to Belle (Emma Watson), a young woman who is taken prisoner by a Beast (Dan Stevens) in his castle in exchange for the freedom of her father Maurice (Kevin Kline). Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and she learns to look beyond the Beast’s exterior to recognize the true heart and soul of the human Prince within. Meanwhile, a hunter named Gaston (Luke Evans) is on the loose to take Belle for himself and later intends to hunt down the Beast at any cost. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is directed by Bill Condon, and is rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.

The unfortunate aspect with watching any movie is that you can only watch it once to be surprised or in awe at the very majestic aura of one’s material. That is the problem that I find with the 2017 version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. It’s not a terrible or even bad film. I found it to be aesthetically pleasing, as well as musically sound for the new variations on timeless classics. When I first heard that they were remaking possibly the most notorious Disney animation movie of all time, my heart did kind of skip a beat. This is ‘Beauty and the Beast’ after all, a movie that was nominated for best picture at that year’s Oscars. The first thing that I look for is how the film stands on its own two feet without relying too heavily on the details of the original offering, a problem that 2015’s ‘Cinderella’ went to the well on one time too many. This movie too is unfortunately cursed to accept the same fate, as there’s very little originality to this script that does at least offer a faithful homage to its predecessor. Sure, there’s an informative scene that relates to Belle’s absent Mother from the original story, but it’s a quick glance into a story that should’ve had more weight on the finished product. These differences are too few and far between, and that lack of fresh perspective unfortunately doesn’t vary much from the 90% of this film that mimics scene-for-scene of the original. The remake feels like it has a lot of respect for that 1991 original. Almost TOO much respect, and because of that, this is one remake that will offer a fruitful trip down nostalgia lane, but won’t provide a lot of sound logic for the concept of breaking the remake spell.

The remake is forty minutes longer than the original animation film. For that very investment in run time, we’re not left with a lot that can pace it along accordingly for the two hour mark. There are some new musical numbers and some longer additions to certain classic scenes that we know and love, but it’s easy to remove this and have it hold no weight against the cherished screenplay. What I did commend the film’s script for is the emphasis on catering not only to its youthful audience, but also to that of the adults who have grown up around these pictures. There’s been a lot of controversy about a certain character’s sexual orientation in the film, but never did I feel the story was threatened or overtaken by pointless exposition in him. Where it does acceptably tiptoe that wink-and-nod response to the mature audiences is in the nature that it spoofs itself on more than one occasion. One such mention is during the snowball fight between Belle and the beast in the courtyard, and beast nails Belle with the biggest snowball that you’ve ever seen, knocking her off of her feet. It’s one of those harmless moments that shows the screenwriters accordingly knew where to command the strings of variation in emotional response from the audience, reminding them of the light-hearted nature of this story in between this story of romantic tragedy.

As I mentioned earlier, the aesthetics and artistic merit for the movie are leagues ahead of everything else. The biggest argument for this release is seeing the vibrantly radiant colors splash against the luxurious backdrops in shooting locations, and on that aspect alone this film would be a 10/10. One thing that movie does better than its predecessor in this subject is immersing the audience in the very immensity of the castle, and that cold, isolated feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world around our two protagonists. It’s only in this live action aspect that you can truly soak in the symbolism of how cold and damp that this home is in relation to the beast’s dwindling chances at breaking the spell. The live object CGI achieves and disappoints on many fronts. I did enjoy the designs on the clock and candelabra for their attention to detail in how the facial features of these respective characters felt authentic with the structure of their clock and candlestick design. One such example of not doing this well is with the designs of Chip the tea cup, whom feels like his design was skimmed over quickly, painting a face onto his tea cup. It’s examples like these where the CGI concepts feel like they were trying for something daring, like in ‘The Jungle Book’, but it isn’t sewed up entirely to make it a complete passing grade. Finally, the musical visuals capture the childhood imagination on more than one occasion. It should be no surprise that ‘Be Our Guest’ was my favorite performance, but not so much for the intricately clever lyrics that the song entails, more on the side of entrancing presentation that explodes in your face like an eruption of confetti. I didn’t see this movie in 3D, but I can recommend checking it out in that offering if only for the over abundance of in-your-face objects that fly in your face, nearly captivating you enough to soak in the tastes and smells of this fairytale world.

The costume designs also nail a possible Oscar worthy nomination on grounds of perfectly capturing the transition from animation to live action. Belle’s elegant golden gown shimmers a dazzling glow, and the tuxedo gown for the beast transports us to a bohemian era that really focuses on this French setting. Far beyond the script that plays it safe, it’s clear that the wardrobe department too wanted fans of the film to know that they were determined in bringing such rich fashions to life, emulating upper class fantasy for audiences who invest in these scenes much further than a delightful soundtrack and romantic material.

The overall cast excites and stimulates this fresh chance to try to make their characters their own, with very few negatives along the way. Lets get it out of the way; Josh Gad’s Le Fou steals the show from this decorated cast, because he chooses to add on to the legacy of a character that was nothing more than throwaway in the original. Gad knows who this character is, therefore he chooses not to quiet or hide that fact. He plays Le Fou with memorable flamboyance and debonair that reaches into your gut to pull out laughter each and every time. As for the rest of the cast, none of them ever rise to the occasion to unseat their original casting shadows. Emma Watson proves that she was the only choice for one of Disney’s most cherished princesses. She can sing, act, and most importantly radiate a warm and caring smile that makes it easy to fall under her spell, leaving little doubt that the casting agent hit a home run with this big name steal. As for negatives, I didn’t like anything about the beast, let alone Dan Stevens turn as the heralded figure. The design in concept is terrible, considering the film pulls on more of the human side and less about the beast. He never once treads like a beast, instead walking like a human on hind legs that never cause him to stumble or stutter. There’s a great lack of emphasis on the impact that his movements make that the original capitalized on so much more accordingly, and Stevens range never convinced me once that he BECAME the Beast. Luke Evans as Gaston is the worst though. Evans just doesn’t radiate enough charisma and bravado to channel this macho pig. We are told how great Gaston is, but never given proof of this praise in the form of physical strength or cunning intellect, with the exception of a five second lift of Le Fou. He’s as typical as a jerk antagonist can be, and pales in comparison to an animated counterpart that out-acted and out-charmed him on every capacity.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ is strong enough as a throwaway remake, but does little to convince fans to leave its predecessor in the dust. The lack of character from this lively cast, as well as a screenplay that plays it far too safely in conventional creativity, hinder what breakthrough possibilities that this movie had. Even still, the pagentry is mesmerizing, and the collection of classic musical favorites, as well as a few new additions, give Condon’s presentation a big screen feel. I’d place this one leagues above the ‘Cinderella’ remake, but just below ‘The Jungle Book’ in terms of fresh perspectives. Either way, The enchantment is still there for fans who seek whimsical nostalgia, and Disney is happy to oblige by opening their hearts….and wallets

7/10

The Devil’s Candy

‘The Loved Ones’ director Sean Byrne returns to write and direct this demented horror treat revolving around a sinister haunting. ‘The Devil’s Candy’ centers around Jesse (Ethan Embry), an artist seeking a fresh start, and his family that think they’ve moved into the house of their dreams, full of extensive space and tranquil detail. The family are told that an older couple passed away in the house, but we soon learn there’s much more to something that is simply too good to be true. Jesse soon discovers not all is structurally sound however, when he comes face-to-face with true evil. What follows is a brutal and bloody fight for survival for the family who see change and recluse to the once attentive father. ‘The Devil’s Candy’ is rated R for brutal violence and adult language. The film is currently making its way around the country’s independent cinemas after being shelved for the better part of two years.

Considering this film has been in development hell for over two years, ‘The Devil’s Candy’ succeeds with an obviously cheap budget where films of more lucrative offerings can’t comprehend. It is a brief, albeit satirical look at the concepts of Metal and its referral to being “The Devil’s music” in relation to the occult and other forces of nature that our unseen in our own world. Sean Byrne is a filmmaker who I have closely followed since the success of ‘The Loved Ones’, a movie that I heralded as being one of the best kept secrets of 2015. This film doesn’t quite reach the heights of that movie creatively, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying, as this film is full of energy and intense camera work that constantly pushed it a little further. The kind of B-grade horror flicks that you pick up on at festivals and can’t wait to tell your friends about. Most recently, the movie’s star Ethan Embry shopped this movie around the Horrorhound Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, so I’ve been dying to see what his hard work merited, and as it turns out, Byrne has picked up the mantle of 70’s horror buff where Rob Zombie has dropped it on more than one occasion.

Films about possession before this one have often taken a look at the subject and its effects from an exterior angle, rarely pushing further to give us something of vision for what the possessed is seeing and taking in, and in that regards, this film is a rare treat. One of my favorite aspects of this movie was artistically crafting the storytelling capabilities of audio and visual to gift wrap the audience a truly terrifying intake that could happen to any family seeking to better themselves. The story opens up typical enough, with this husband, wife, and daughter moving into a new house, ala ‘The Amittyville Horror’. However, the similarities stop there, as ‘The Devil’s Candy’ teaches its audience that less is more in the narration department. This is very much a movie that would rather show then tell, a concept that has positives and negatives to it. On the latter, this is a film that desperately could’ve used another twenty minutes to pay slightly more attention in particular to the wife’s character. She basically disappears midway through, and we’re kind of left with Father, Daughter, and only two-thirds of a reactionary stance for the bizarre events that surround them. On the positive, the film never slugs along, quickly breezing through 78 minutes of solid, sound pacing that constantly kept the story moving. I wasn’t completely satisfied with where the film ended, as it feels like a forgotten layer of the story tacked on at the last minute for the hell of it, but the movie did leave a lasting impression with me that kept me constantly guessing as it played against all of the famous horror troupes that dull down these life-threatening scenarios.

As I mentioned before, the technical aspects are a breath of claustrophobic fresh air, detailing the very internal struggles going on with Jesse as he keeps this terrifying secret from the two people he loves the most in this world. There’s some cutting-edge experimental effects work here, not only from CGI fire that actually looks passable for once, but also in the way Byrne navigates through the flames in presenting art in motion. I also loved how the sound from the rest of the room would slowly evaporate as the possession verses took place. It made it easy to comprehend all of these possessions in movies when it feels like the character is a thousand leagues under the sea. These are not the only example of his greatness however, as he also uses lighting and set devices to cause uncertainty with which decade this story takes place in. With Metallica t-shirts that the Father and Daughter don throughout the movie, it’s obvious that this film takes place at least in the post-80’s, but the usage of neon lights and pasty colored wallpaper take this story right out of the 70’s, especially when you consider how impactful the occult was during such a time.

The metal dominated soundtrack is also something that has always gone hand-in-hand in a sanctimonious marriage with horror, and its presence here is nothing short of fitting with the very satanic material. Heavy-hitting rock gods like Slayer, Machine Head, and Goya are just a few of the sampling artists that lend their credits to this film. You never realize it until a song captures the perfect essence, but music plays such an important detail to movies, especially that of horror, whose sound is constantly eclectic for the kind of worlds that it is depicting. This genre of music is always associated with cult movements from misunderstood generations past, so the inside joke of throwing its importance into the faces of those same crowds, casts an irony that definitely wasn’t missed by this critic in particular. In a sense, the music itself thrives when the most is on the line, and what better offering than rock to set the stage?

There are a few supporting one-line characters thrown in from time-to-time, but this is mostly a four character story between the split sides of possession. Pruit Taylor Vance is back to always exude his creepy quiet. I do wish the running time wasn’t so brief because this character deserved a bit more of exposition to make him someone of reputable value to the story. At least his performance never misses the mark, as he could play a character like this in his sleep by now. Ethan Embry is virtually unrecognizable as the male lead, donning a scruffy beard and dirty wig to cultivate the rocker within him. You really feel for his character considering he is at the will of something much greater than him. For his performance, Embry masters a devilish side of himself that we have yet to see from the 90’s stud, and I very much enjoyed his investment in the film. But beyond who I previously mentioned, this is quite the coming out party for 16-year-old Kiara Glasco. This stirring starlet shrieks her way through scene after scene of blood-curdling screams and vein-popping frights that would put her as the front runner of scream queen for her up-and-coming generation. Kiara has a personality that always feels like she’s one step ahead of her adult counterparts, adding an appreciative maturity for someone who would otherwise be a throwaway character in mainstream horror. She was unquestionably my favorite character in the movie, and I hope that she will save some of that goosebump-inducing adrenaline for more horror offerings in the coming future.

‘The Devil’s Candy’ is one of those sweet tastes that hooks itself onto fans of the 70’s B-movie glitz. With a run time that hurts and helps its cause, Sean Byrne touches on just enough mystery to constantly keep the audience guessing, making his latest the perfect opportunity to cut the lights out and indulge on everything from Metallica, V-neck guitars, and the occult. A stirring riveter that casts its claws into genre enthusiasts everywhere just begging for the perfect soundtrack to hell.

6/10

The Girl With all the Gifts

One girl is the cure for the zombie epidemic, in ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’. The near future humanity has been all but destroyed by a mutated fungal disease that eradicates free will and turns its victims into flesh-eating “hungries”. Only a small group of children seem immune to its effects. At an army base in rural England, this group of unique children are being studied, subjected to cruel experiments by biologist Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close). Despite having been infected with the zombie pathogen that has decimated the world, these children retain normal thoughts and emotions. The children attend school lessons daily, guarded by the ever watchful Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine). But one little girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), stands out from the rest. Melanie is special. She excels in the classroom, is inquisitive, imaginative and loves her favorite teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton). When the base falls, Melanie escapes along with Miss Justineau, Sergeant Parks and Dr. Caldwell. Against the backdrop of a blighted Britain, Melanie must discover what she is and ultimately decide both her own future and that of the human race. ‘The Girl With All the Gifts’ is directed by Colm McCarthy, and is rated R for disturbing violence/bloody imagery, as well as adult language.

In 2017, it’s obvious that the zombie genre has run amock. At this point, fresh ideas to stimulate and energize this subgenre are few and far between, but occasionally an injection of pure adrenaline is injected, and we remember what was once great about these kind of movies. Out of the smoke comes ‘The Girl With all the Gifts’, a European horror offering lifted from the pages of the book by the same name. Perhaps literature still inhabits all of the fresh and unused in ways that film is truly lacking on these days, because this movie was dreary, yet inspiring. It’s a reminder that the best and truly most frightening angles in horror are the ones that we find great fear in within our own psyches, and this post-apocalyptic wasteland where youth reigns supreme is a call-back to the days of ‘Children of the Corn’, as well as ‘Pet Cemetery’. While paying homage in essence to some of those classic pictures, ‘Gifts’ is a movie that carves its own reputation by changing the perception in and around European horror.

First of all is the appreciation of a story that doesn’t overcomplicate itself by giving a typical narration intro describing how we got to this bleak disposition. There’s a lot of mystery and cryptic bypassing that surrounds the first act of this McCarthy’s film, and I dig that because his method of storytelling never requires the audience to be spoon-fed that important story arcs. This is a director who has more than enough faith in his viewers, so he lets them paint the pieces, and this is by no means a difficult picture to paint. The film is to be applauded by slow-peeling the layer of exposition. We know by the title that the younger cast maintain this constant level of importance to the overall story, but through the eyes of this teenage girl, we learn step-by-step why she is so important. I commend any film that invests in the capability of child actors, especially ones that are good at captivating audiences, but this film does all of that without needing the tired, cliche scripts that plague the young adult point of view. The film continuously built to a crescendo of pulse-setting scintilation, concluding with a finale that constantly reminds us that hope waived goodbye to this set of characters long ago. A message that the audience has to endure over-and-over through some ever-changing landscapes and backdrops.

If there is some weakness to this story, it’s more so in that defining of the rules from these infected children, who seem to turn it on whenever the plot deems it convenient. There were many examples during the movie of these kids snapping when they can smell the scent of their adult prey nearby, but then there are other points when these adults run and sweat, further engulfing themselves in fatigue that accelerates said smell, and there’s not even a flirt with such suspense. Other than this, the only other problem that I had with the movie was some slight obvious foreshadowing in the opening twenty minutes that one can read through the lines on to see where the film is headed. If you manage to watch this film in one continuous setting, these subplots that stick out like a sore thumb will constantly ring in the back of your mind near the end of the movie, and it suddenly becomes obvious how the dots connect. Small issues in the otherwise grander picture that is this frightening takeover that uniquely relays how adults are the new minority.

Leaps and bounds above the rest though, my favorite aspect to the film is a bittersweet fragile composition by Cristol Tapia De Veer. If one thing is certain, it’s that Cristol has definitely done his studying on the genre of zombie classics like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and the George Romero offering of zombie introductions. On those movies, ‘Gifts’ too uses the same few notes to repetition, slowly varying them with each passing second. This allows audiences to fully soak in and embrace the dread that envelopes our cast of characters in a dense fog. In addition to this, the overall sound mixing and editing justify a couple of jump scares in the script that constantly keep the viewer guessing. I’m a difficult person to rattle when it comes to timely jump scares, but ‘Gifts’ hit me hard during a second act reveal that came opposite from the side that you weren’t expecting. It overall makes for a grade-A experience if you watch this in a theater or a stacked surround sound experience.

The acting too brings to light a combination of reputable actors with relative unknowns that blended positively in a well-balanced cast. Gemma Arterton is someone who I’ve always felt needed the right script to shine appropriately, and as Justineau we get the lone character who understands and holds onto the importance of that dying age of positivity for the concept of a child being a child. Arterton and Melanie’s friendship weighs heavily in importance for the direction of the movie, and thankfully it inherits loads of heart to keep the protagonist angles working overtime against the remainder of adults who have their own selfish agendas. Such a character is Glenn Close’s Dr. Caldwell character. There’s so much menace and plotting going on underneath the surface of Close’s outstanding work here, and that attention to detail had me often times searching for the grand scheme beneath her stone cold exterior. Close and Atterton lead the way for adult leads, but it’s in the introduction of Sennia Nanua in her first feature film. As Melanie, Nanua triumphs soundly, balancing equal parts human and monster that never feels riddled in gimmicks or underplayed in emotional response. For a 14-year-old, she is leaps and bounds above her age with how she plays the movie, and silently she commits theft on the stealing of this screenplay, a ‘girl with all of the gifts’, if you will.

By finding an original take on the zombie epidemic, as well as blazing through a circumference of well-timed scares and dreary backdrops, ‘The Girl With all the Gifts’ re-ignites an antidote of adrenaline deep within the heart of this aging subgenre. Poignant, atmospheric, and brutally hungry, this adaptation from Colm McCarthy will leave you reeling long after the ending that delivers on a solid payoff. This one takes a bite and keeps on chewing.

8/10

Trainspotting 2

Twenty years after a heroin binge sent their lives in spirals, the gang of Edinburgh return to the silver screen, in ‘Trainspotting 2′. After betraying his friends and running off with (almost) all the money from a scam, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is back in Edinburgh. It is his first time back since the events that split him, Spud (Ewen Bremmer) and Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) apart. He looks up Spud and Simon but their lives are hardly much better than when he last saw them. Spud, after getting his life together, has seen it all unravel, to the point that he is suicidal. Simon is running his father’s loss-making pub, in between bouts of blackmail. Meanwhile, the fourth person in their caper of 20 years’ ago, the psychotically intense Begbie (Robert Carlyle), is in jail. He has no intention of staying incarcerated and revenge is foremost on his mind. Mark quickly finds himself unraveling in the same circular direction that nearly ended his life two decades prior. ‘Trainspotting 2’ is directed by Danny Boyle, and is rated R for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence.

Danny Boyle became notorious after crafting the original ‘Trainspotting’ in 1996, a movie that unapologetically depicted the live fast lifestyles of drug use and the consequences that came with them. Over twenty years later, it’s interesting to see an artistic imitation of life, as just like the protagonist of Mark Renton, Boyle too returns to the spot of his youth to dabble once again in the waters that would inspire him to grow as one of boldest artistic expressionists of our time. ‘Trainspotting 2’ might not prosper to a complete success in the same vain that its predecessor did, but there’s much to indulge in the nostalgic slice of pie that Boyle conjures up for his audience. It was certainly interesting enough to catch up with these characters with so much time removed from one film to the other, and the continuing script by John Hodge gels perfectly to bridge the gap of rust, emulating a story that feels very in-sync with that of the first movie. A difficult thing to do once so much time has passed not only in real time, but also in screen time between character to character.

From Hodge and Boyle’s standpoint, this film packs several impactful messages surrounding the importance of friendship and how the memories that we make as youths shape us to be the people we grow up to be. In regards to this film, it’s clear that so much can happen after two decades, but we can’t change the moral integrity of the heart beating inside, and it’s in that thought process where so very little has changed over time for our four main characters. Where the first film centered around addictions and selfish indulgences, ‘Trainspotting 2’ focuses more on the beauty of life and living with eyes wide open for the very first time. Sure, there is drug use in this film as well, but these feel like characters who are thinking clearly for the first time, and it’s more than satisfying enough to see them prosper, despite the ghosts of Edinburgh past coming back to haunt them occasionally. The difference in age and lifestyles go far beyond that of what’s depicted in story, but also that in pacing of this film versus the 96 original. At nearly two hours, this film feels sauntering when compared to the upbeat pacing and flow of the first movie, channeling the aging process accordingly of the 40-something cast that now deal with maturity. I found this angle in storytelling to be beneficial, even if there is about twenty minutes or so of the movie that flounders in purpose, and would’ve wisely been better left on the cutting room floor.

With Boyle being a magician behind the lens, we are once again treated to a visual fiesta of experimental lighting, editing, and overall camera work that integrates soundly into the picture. The scene-to-scene transitions are beautifully decorated here, characterizing the landscapes not only in Amsterdam to Edinburgh, but also in the coincidences in repetition that Mark realizes from his own past. On the latter, the touches and insertions of child actors being edited into what’s happening on-screen tugs at the heartstrings of anyone watching, highlighting the innocence in every one of us who once had a dream of greatness when we were younger. This film embraces nostalgia with open arms, so it’s beneficial to the creativity and relaying of internal feelings to the audience to include these youthful images, a feature that only someone like Boyle could master, with such similar touches in films like ‘127 Hours’ and ’28 Days Later’.

The character involvement was kind of hit or miss for me, treading a delicate line of material that could only go so far for so much cast. The redeeming friendship of Renton and Sick Boy, as well as Begbie’s escape from prison is a focal point of face value for the movie, but aspects like Spud’s new lease on life, as well as Diane’s one or two throwaway scenes felt very shoe-horned in for the storytelling that was taken place with the trio of main protagonists in the movie. Their performances all consistently reach their designated marks, particularly in that of McGregor who once again balances on a tight rope of personal wants that hinder his growth for the needs in his life, but there are times in this movie where it felt like I was watching two different films that were smashed together, both of which fighting desperately to get out. What I mean by that is it feels like Diane’s scenes in particular should be amounting to more, but they just never happen. I felt no one-on-one confrontation between her and Mark is a dropping of the ball for the ways some of the questions were left unanswered from the previous events, leaving a noticeable gap for the supporting cast of both movies.

My biggest gripe with ‘Trainspotting 2’ is that it feels like a commercial for the first movie, without ever selling its own chapter of merit for fans who seek the continuance. There is certainly nothing wrong with reflecting on events that happen in a previous movie, but this film goes to the well far too much, signaling a flimsy offering of original material that ‘Trainspotting 2’ has for itself. It feels like every time that this movie might be heading in search of its own identity, only to be told once again how great the first movie is. These reflections certainly coincide with that of the past playing such a prominent role in this movie, but after the third or fourth time, you can almost set your watch by when it will happen again, expressing a layer of predictability that these films should never have.

‘Trainspotting 2’ is a welcome and appreciative sequel that could do little better about having a twenty year lay-off that would normally doom a sequel with this kind of waiting power. Boyle and Hodge reflect artistically the kind of harsh realities that our pasts play on who we are shaping ourselves to be, and that disillusionment of age that forces us to earn our wisdom. Boyle’s return to Edinburgh is a good film that could be great if it had more faith in its current story, but the dabble into the past ironically enough is the undoing of a movie that centers around it.

7/10

The Belko Experiment

One terrifying project named ‘The Belko Experiment’ has employees of a prestigious company witnessing a new kind of hell for the work day. In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans of mixed race, gender, and official rank are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed. Over the course of an allotted time limit, the workers must put the law in their own hands by murdering the very same colleagues that they refer to as friends. The last person standing will undoubtedly possess the strongest iron of wills, leaving a trail of bodies and consequences for what lies ahead. ‘The Belko Experiment’ is directed by Greg McLean, and is rated R for strong bloody vioelnce throughout, language including sexual references, and some drug use.

A couple of times a year, I will read reviews for a movie that is getting mostly panned by critics across the globe, then I see that particular film and feel like it must have been made just for me. That seems to be the case with ‘The Belko Experiment’, as I had lots of fun with this B-movie horror treat. The team up of James Gunn and Greg McLean is simply too rare to pass up, so when I heard that two of the more popular directors going today were making a terror shriek, it certainly intrigued me well beyond the point of curiosity. Sprinkle in a cast of familiar faces, mostly from supporting roles over their respective careers, and you have 83 minutes of a plot that certainly treads the line of originality for anything else going today. In the day and age of plots like ‘The Purge’ and ‘Saw’, the concept of ‘The Belko Experiment’ feels like it trumps them all, depicting the elevation of terror with a gimmick that feels like we’re constantly watching mice in a maze for our own sadistic enjoyment. It’s films like these that make you thankful that you are watching at home and not in it, because McLean takes great pride in elevating the very vulnerability of the work station. A charm that never goes unnoticed with the variety of characters that make up this film.

The movie opens up for the first fifteen minutes or so giving the audience what little exposition on its characters that it mostly had for the entirety of the picture. Sadly, we don’t learn a lot about our characters, just the daily annoyances that make their layer of patience bend ever so slightly further. With this being a horror movie, of course all of these scenarios will play out to give us the audience a reminder of where certain characters divide the line of alliances. It’s true that there is very little exposition in narrative as the film goes on, but it’s not something that takes a big enough bite out of the creative stance here. Because this is an EXPERIMENT, the study of human interaction is what really takes the floor here, and the progression in logical stances quickly gets more and more humbling through the steps of panic. With the first introduction by those in charge, our characters are told that they have two hours to kill twenty people or those in charge will kill thirty of them. This is of course met with slight confusion, albeit in a joking manner, and that uncertainty is certainly something that any of us would be met with. Then, when they prove their intentions in visual results, you slowly start to see the weaker mentalities coming forward, forming bonds with the stronger players, and setting forth the motions in surviving this day of hell. The study of just how far people will take things was the single most compelling aspect to this movie, and there was never a moment when their reactions didn’t feel anything but authentic.

I also greatly enjoyed the visuals in set pieces, as well as vicious deliveries that this seemingly endless supply of blood garnered. On the latter, there’s so much to appreciate about a director who doesn’t feel the need to hide or shield the audience from the ferocity of eighty people fighting for their lives. The carnage candy is delightful for a horror buff like me, and even though the shots are done with dramatic quick cuts, there’s still enough emphasis on close-ups to fully comprehend the impact in damage. The brutality gets more barbaric as the film progresses, and I took this devastating progression in the same continuous flow that I did the slipping sanity of many of our loose cannons. On the former, this set design feels necessary to achieve its message in simplicity. That message is that Belko Industries could double as any office workplace where people spend a majority of their lives together far too closely. The casual white shirt and tie becoming more-and-more decorated with the remains of co-workers as the film goes on, serves as a symbolism of sorts to the corruption that has overtaken this typical work day.

The music soundtrack provides an orchestral accompaniment of sorts to the madness that is developing around us. Seeing as to how this movie is set south of the border, the Mexican translations of many top 40 classic hits feels appropriate. Songs like ‘California Dreamin’ and ‘I Will Survive’ strike an ironic, if not somberly tragic musical note, and it relates to us that the film isn’t afraid to have a sense of humor in an otherwise abysmal environment. An unknown operatic musical number plays during the final confrontations, and it couldn’t feel more unnerving when played to these visuals nightmares in this fight for survival. It proves that music most certainly still holds an important place in 21st century horror films, and Mclean never disappoints in compromising visuals that artistically paint him as a visionary for this particular genre.

All of my problems with this movie, coincidentally enough, revolved around the pacing, which feels too fast to fully immerse into this plot and characters. I feel that a film like this could’ve really used that 100 minute run time to simmer some of the slow burns in vulnerability or unpredictability that takes over this building with each passing minute. What’s disappointing is that we don’t learn a lot about our mysterious antagonists, and it almost feels like our characters aren’t even asking about them, an important question that could’ve used some thoughtful pondering. There’s an element that is introduced around the half hour mark that keeps the workers in line with the demands of the voice, and I felt like it was a significant leap of faith logically for what the audience will choose to believe with these characters. I certainly understand its intention, but it just feels like an aspect that is there to be convenient to the plot. Other than these things, the third act also feels slightly rushed with everything that needs to be wrapped up in the final twenty minutes. It’s during this time when the desperation not only in the characters, but also in the script sets in, and that hour of lightly treading becomes a fast-paced marathon of executions and goodbyes that don’t fully get the deserving gasp.

Work is murder quite literally in this cherished team-up between Gunn and Mclean, and ‘The Belko Experiment’ is harmless, maniacal fun too delightful to be missed. Despite some impatient speeds in pacing, the film is much better than the unjustifiable negatives by critics that have been slung its way. Overall, it’s a viciously bleak character study on human morality and rationale, when played against the most dangerous of ‘What If?’ scenarios that we discuss in private with our friends. A smooth day at the office with very little manual labor involved.

6/10

Kong: Skull Island

The king of the jungle makes a roaring comeback, in ‘Kong: Skull Island’. Set In 1973, a secretive organization known as Monarch finds an island that is shrouded in mystery and identified as the origin for new and dangerous species wreaking havoc on the locals. The resulting expedition to the island reveals that a giant monstrous ape named Kong is at the center of a battle for dominion over the island, against the apex predators, nicknamed the “Skull Crawlers”, responsible for wiping out his kind. As the expedition crew makes plans to fight for survival against Kong and the other monsters on the island, some of them begin to see that Kong is worth saving, in the ensuing brawl for the island’s worth. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ stars Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, and Brie Larson. It is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is an accurate and intricate depiction of a creature feature set during the Vietnam era, and that setting does nothing but compliment the beautiful presentation in glossy cinematography that goes much further than cosmetic purposes. I found myself very impressed not only with the yellowish color tint, highlighting the screen full of endless sun and smoke, but also that of the superior editing of 70’s stock footage that is placed so sporadically throughout the intro scenes of this picture. The designs in costume and sets mold very faithful homages to the eras of Nixon and Johnson, and no price is spared to immerse the audience visually in this creative time period. Kong himself previously had a movie made during the 70’s, but ‘Skull Island’ feels like it outduels that previous effort, relaying the very socially binding concepts in war and patriotism that were called into question for the first times in U.S history. It’s a movie that has so much going on for it in socialistic commentary that only adds depth and layering to the concepts of setting this film in that age, and all of those issues do not go ignored in the initial plot and introductions of these human characters meeting their 100 foot tall counterpart.

The idea was evident from the opening act of this movie; presentation in ironic comparisons between this invasion with that of the Vietnam war. Upon the introduction of Samuel L Jackson’s character, we are told about Vietnam being a war in which the U.S lost, for its overabundance of lost lives, as well as the permanent stain that it left on the moral fabric of American-foreign relations. The group of soldiers in this film likewise must invade a mysterious island in which they know nothing about, tackle an enemy with all of the advantages of knowing its home, and make their way through an endless landscape of trees full of separate enemies that want them dead. Despite all of this being an obvious comparison, I found myself intrigued to see what Vogt-Roberts could do with this immense budget and ambitious production. The concept in design does wonders not only to the kinds of weapon responses that we unleash upon Kong and the creatures alike, but also in the mental instability of thousands of soldiers coming home to very little of a heroic return. It makes you understand the painfully tough decisions that each of them make, most of which go against protocol for the typical exploration mission.

As for story, the film kicks us off with a boost of adrenaline, supplying a 70’s soundtrack that perfectly captures this place in time. I commend this film for not making the audience wait the usual hour for giving us our initial intakes with its title character, the impact of which sets the stage for anything but your typical survival movie. The second act unfortunately doesn’t continue this pacing, as much of this period feels like it’s held in the air for the riveting conclusion that we’ve all been waiting for. It’s nothing jarring in terms of synthetic pacing or consequential to the material before it, but it just plays things far too safely, including a noticeable gap of about a half hour without Kong, in which we come to learn about some of the other creatures who inhabit the island. The final act resolved mostly everything that I was anticipating, building to a test of wills between man versus monster that will have you re-thinking everything that you’ve come to know to this point. Certainly, this isn’t anything original for a Kong flick, but I commend this film for not being afraid to tell the story that many Americans won’t be too encouraged to hear. When you invade and bomb somebody’s home, there are consequences that come with that feat, and ‘Skull Island’ reflects on a time when our own special forces were at a crossroads after the last of the tolling world wars.

The action sequences and creature designs also live up to par, emoting solid computer generated work to accomplish the mental game of its animated characters. This is by far my favorite Kong design of all time and a lot of that is because more attention to detail is given on his eyes and facial movements that speak to the heart of the animal. For most of the history of Kong, he is portrayed by a man under a rubber suit, and even though I am a sucker for practical stunt work, there is no comparison in monster movies to the kind of cutting-edge work that studios are manufacturing today. The designs of the bone creatures were also very enjoyable. The snap reactions to the way they stalk their prey communicate everything that you need to know about their character, and it’s in their cunning nature where they more-than measure up to the immense Kong, setting up a showdown that will remind you what you came to see. The action sequences impressed me not only as a powder-keg of ammunition riddled quick-cuts, but also in how grizzly and visceral the unapologetic violence kept topping itself. To me, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ feels like the first actual horror movie in the Kong franchise, and most of that can be attributed to its bone-crunching, crimson-colored carnage that pushes the envelope as far as it should rightfully go for PG-13.

The biggest weakness in the film to me was character exposition. Most people won’t watch a Kong movie for its ambitious characters, but an A-list cast this great were simply too big to be disappointing, and with the exception of three characters, they are mostly wasted in one-note designs that don’t do a single one of them a favor. I’ve read that most critics have a problem with the exposition for these characters, but I think the problem lies in the overabundance of characters that continue through the majority of this film. An opening crash scene that is shown in the trailers doesn’t do a lot to increase the body count, so this massive group of civilians bide their time before their number is called. Most notably, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are sadly wasted as flimsy one-note characters that stick too closely to their outlines. Larson is the photographer, so she must snap a picture in every cut to her, and Hiddleston is essentially James Bond with a gun or sword, so he must continue to be accurately perfect throughout the film. Thankfully, the trio of Jackson, Goodman, and John C Reilly present hearty and competent characters to give us something to chew on. I was amazed with how important Reilly was to the script as the movie went on, essentially centering around the past of his character that establishes him as something more than just the grizzled veteran. Goodman’s character narration enjoys a solid first act that unfortunately is for nothing, as he disappears late in the second. Up until then, he was probably my favorite character, but he is lost in the sea of faces once their feet land on the island. Jackson is devilishly detestable as an army captain with malicious intent. Early on, we learn why he has such an interest in this mission, but due to Jackson’s gritty performance, you start to see the mask of sanity slowly slip away, giving way to the weapon of mass destruction that earned his character a chest full of honorary medals.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is certainly an improvement on 2014’s ‘Godzilla’, and does more than enough to even the scales for the massive 2020 showdown between the two. The film’s ambitiously gorgeous presentation, as well as thrilling action sequences does more than enough to push it through some of the weaker aspects, like a dry second act, and an overabundance of patient characters with very little to do. Vogt-Roberts masterful dab in visual tapestry paints an intoxicating canvas for Kong to roar his loudest. The king is finally back on his throne.

7/10